Outlook is, by default, set up to organize your life by contact. The “activities” tab (or button, if you have upgraded to Outlook 2007), connects you to all the tasks, appointments, and contacts associated with a particular contact. This works well in some worlds, but not so well for law offices, where you really want to track all the to-dos, appointments, and e-mails associated with a particular case.
The solution is pretty easy, actually. At left, you can see how I organize my folder tree and my “Matters – open” folder. E-mails are automatically associated with contacts, so you just need a way to group a set of contacts (parties, attorneys, witnesses, etc.), tasks, and appointments. I just set up a separate folder for my open cases and name them with my file number and case name. I associate the file with the contacts relevant to the file, and link all tasks and appointments to the “matter” contact. That way everything is linked. Click on the “Activities” tab/button of your matter to bring up all the contacts, tasks, and appointments, on that case. Click on the individual contacts to get to the e-mails associated with the matter.
When creating a new task or appointment, just use the “Contacts” field at the bottom of the form to link it to the matters. If you get an e-mail related to a matter but that isn’t from a contact in your address book, just right-click on the e-mail in your Inbox and select “Message Options.” One of the options is a “Contacts” link where you can associate that message with your matter.
And there you go. Matters-based organizing in Outlook. Easy as pie.
The key to organizing in Outlook by case/matter is getting to know your “Activity” tab/button (Outlook 2007 at right—yes, I am evaluating Office 2007, but I am holding off on my review until I have lived with it for two weeks). In Outlook 2002/2003, this is a tab in every Contact form. Open up the contact, click on the Activity tab/button, and you can see every e-mail to and from that contact as well as every contact, task, and appointment you have associated with that contact. You have to associate everything but e-mails manually, but it is just as quick as doing it in TM. Quicker, actually, as long as TM takes to save a form.